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Ariana Grande, ‘thank u, next’

Ariana Grande’s 2018 release, sweetener, had only been on store shelves for two months before the pop star began recording its follow up, thank u, next. Prior to this, Grande had officially declared a hiatus from her music career following both the passing of ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller and split from fiance, Pete Davidson.

sweetener stood as Grande’s statement following 2017’s Manchester bombing and her newfound relationship with Davidson. Riddled with songs dealing with crippling anxiety and odes to newfound love, sweetener inched Grande’s image one-step closer to the sense of female empowerment that simmered under fan favorites such as “Dangerous Woman,” and “Bang Bang.” Obviously wounded, Grande would nevertheless assure interviewers and fans alike that she was in an optimistic place following a self-professed love of therapy and studio sessions.

thank u, next rewrites that story. For her fifth album, Grande ditches her pop roots for Beyonce-style R&B and a controversial trap sound that sent Twitter into a frenzy for weeks. With it’s vulnerable lyrics and upbeat sound, the album’s title track earned Grande her first #1 on the Billboard 100. Save for the risque “7 Rings,” (Grande’s 2nd #1, might we add) such confidence proves an exception on the 12-track collection; Grande herself described thank u, next in an interview with Billboard as ” [sounding] really upbeat, [although] it’s actually a super-sad chapter. [The album’s] not particularly uplifting.” 

Songs like the bouncy highlight, “NASA” and the quirky “make up” are prime examples. Playful rhythms and quirky synths try their best to sugarcoat the underlying themes of distancing and shortcomings within relationships. Sonically, the blaring synth horns and percussive groove of “bloodline” are reminiscent of 2016’s “Side to Side.” The first half of “bad idea” comes closest to Grande’s “Into You” days before seguing into a trap-lite instrumental. Throughout the record, buoyant arrangements and sanguine melodies repeatedly distract from Grande’s melancholic views; most fans probably found themselves listening to tracks on repeat just to understand the full gist of the album’s heavy mood.

Other cuts, such as the stripped-down “needy” and the eerie “ghostin’,” face her anguish head-on. It’s on these tracks that producers Tommy Brown and the duo, ILYA and Max Martin allow for Grande’s much needed vulnerability. While the aforementioned “7 Rings” tries to smother her disappointment under thick sub-bass and heavy braggadocio, the straight-forward heartache and disappointment heard on “in my head” and “fake smile” offer an honest view fans are sure to appreciate.

thank u, next has become Ariana Grande’s 4th chart-topping album on the Billboard 200 with a debut week of 360,000 total units. After five years since Grande’s debut album, thank u, next has finally scored Grande not one, but two #1 debuts on the Hot 100 (with “break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored” set to become her third). Still, thank u, next’s biggest achievement isn’t its commercial success; rather, its an unabashed embracing of the personal that allows the record to stand on its own two feet. On her latest release, Grande favors keyed-down production and vulnerability over the high-profile promotional schedules and controversies that have marked her career thus far.

Riding The “Landslide”: A Post for a 26th Birthday

Every time I attend a Stevie Nicks concert, I call my Dad the moment “Landslide” begins. Nicks often opts to perform this iconic ballad as an encore, acknowledging the leverage such artists as the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins have given the track. At this point, the crowd is deafening and my cell phone reception becomes sporadic. My goal, however, isn’t to bootleg a Madison Square Garden rendition of “Landslide”; my sole aim is to remind my family of how they provided me with the greatest love of my life—music.

I discovered Stevie Nicks while rummaging through my father’s old vinyl. Among picture discs of Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman and KISS records, I found copies of both Fleetwood Mac’s 1977’s Rumours and Stevie Nick’s solo debut, Bella Donna. I had spent the first 13 years of my life hooked on my stepmother’s country pop and my sister’s obsession with 90’s R&B. Once I heard the opening verses of “Dreams,” however, my musical direction would shift lanes. ’70’s Stevie Nicks wasn’t the bouncy optimism of Shania Twain or Carey’s flashy belts and whistles; Stevie’s sang with both the humility of an early Dolly Parton and the eccentric mysticism that underscored Led Zeppelin’s most iconic songs. By the time I had reached Bella Donna‘s gruff, Police-inspired “Edge of Seventeen,” I interrogated my father about everything and anything that was Fleetwood Mac.

My father has devoted his life to his guitar. A gifted neoclassical guitarist, he dedicates every spare minute to his craft. He spent decades gorging himself on Yngwie Malmsteen imports and Van Halen videos. A self-taught guitarist before the coming of the Internet, he’s rehashed for me the nights spent playing along to guitar solos on vinyl records for hours on end. Before tablature on the web or DAWs, there were only haphazardly printed songbooks and the discipline to learn an upcoming gig’s setlist by ear. He mourns the lost art of discipline and dedication in the contemporary musician, who has endless Youtube tutorials and tab forums at his disposal; in this era of information overload, I envy his willingness to devote his time to nothing more than his guitar and his favorite records. My biggest musical hero, my father was the recipient of every inquiry I had—Fleetwood Mac would be no different.

Shortly after my Fleetwood Mac discovery, my father dug out his copy of their 1997 live album, The Dance. I wore out the gears in my yellow Walkman listening to a version of “Landslide” dedicated to her father. While I admired Lindsey Buckingham’s Travis-picking and Stevie’s wizened, yet emotive vocals, it was the timeless lyrics describing the reluctance and uncertainty in aging that kept the song on repeat. Any 13 year old would feel the gravity of such lyrics; with the arrival of a younger brother and strained ties within my family, “Landslide” reigned me in, easing the rough transition and reigniting my passion for writing.

As I write this, I am only half an hour away from my 26th birthday. The past year has been riddled with unexpected bouts of illness, uncertainty regarding graduate school, and a new romantic relationship. I’ve often told myself that this year was the most challenging in my life, despite family and friends reassuring me otherwise. For the past week, I’ve been listening to “Landslide” on repeat, contemplating the many paths I must choose from. I’ve found comfort, however, in remembering that Stevie was only 25 when she wrote “Landslide.” Dropped from Polydor Records after a failed record, Stevie created “Landslide” out of indecision: Would she appease her parents by finishing college or chase after a music career with Lindsey Buckingham? Stevie chose the latter, living off Hamburger Helper and a waitress’s paycheck until Mick Fleetwood signed the duo a year later.

The last time I saw Stevie Nicks was on her 24 Karat Tour. I left during the middle of “Rhiannon,” a song Stevie claims she’s performed at every concert since its release in 1975. As I scooted around hollering fans, I reasoned that “Landslide” must have been booted in favor of more obscure 80’s recordings. As I opened the door leading to the stairs, however, I heard the first chords to “Landslide,” soon followed by an arena full of cheers. The crowd roared and the reception wasn’t too great. Still, I dialed my father and waited as I listened to the concert from the fire escape.

photo credit: golfnride Stevie Nicksphotopin (license)

Sia, “Reaper”

Sia’s upcoming LP, This Is Acting, collects a handful of shelved songs from the Australian songwriter’s undoubtedly massive archive. Although the 12 tracks (14 tracks if you snatch up the Target Exclusive Version) were returned by the likes of Adele, Beyonce, and Shakira, Sia nevertheless feels the compilation consists entirely of unrecognized hits.

The fun, yet ominous “Reaper,” proves to be one of the most promising of five singles released on iTunes so far . Cowritten and produced with Kanye West for Rihanna’s elusive Anti project, the promotional single is a bass-driven slice of charming pop radio. The upbeat, rhythmic production, however, juxtaposes with Sia’s despondent lyrics, with proclamations such as “So come back when I’m good to go/I got drinks to drink, and men to hold/I got good things to do with my life” meant to ward off an early Death.

While the track will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Sia’s 2014 release, 1,000 Forms Of Fear, the award-winning songwriter revealed her own indifference to the song in a recent Rolling Stone interview.  Sia herself preferred “One Million Bullets” and the Beyonce-outtake,”Footprints,”to the sinister “Reaper,” which was only included on the final tracklist of Acting after her manager’s insistence.

Sure, “Reaper” is no “Chandelier” or “Alive.” However, as pickings from the cutting room floor of one of contemporary pop’s most pervasive songsmiths, the track showcases the flexibility that allowed Sia to transition from indie songstress to pop’s most in-demand writers.

Sia’s This Is Acting hits shelves on January 29th. 





Mewtwo Returns To Smash Bros, But You’ll Have To Purchase Both 3DS & Wii U Versions To Get Him For Free

Ah, you almost fooled us, Sakurai! Who called it, World?

My Nintendo News

The Super Smash Bros Nintendo Direct has revealed a veteran fighter is returning to the battle. Popular among many Smash fans, Mewtwo is back and ready to take down a few fighters in the arena. Fans will be able to grab him for free in Spring 2015 providing you’ve registered both the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game in a special online promotion. More details will become available in the future on the promotion, so stay tuned.

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Sakurai Says Smash Bros Clone Haters Are Mostly Children And It Cannot Be Helped

Have you been reading my WordPress, Sakurai? 😛

My Nintendo News

Super Smash Bros director Masahiro Sakurai has taken some time out in his weekly column in Famitsu to explain the cloned characters in the recently released Nintendo 3DS version. Sakurai says that those who are the most vocal about the characters are mainly kids who are just extremely passionate about the game. Here’s what he had to say in Famitsu.

“There are 3 fighters [Lucina, Dark Pit, and Doctor Mario] that are alternate models (clones) in the game. Each was originally a color variation, but during development, they were given balanced characteristics. Since their functionality had differences, forms were separated from each other. However, it was vital that this didn’t increase the required man-hours. Some relative tuning was sufficient as it wasn’t necessary to create balancing from scratch.”

“This is like a free dessert after a luxurious meal that was prepared free of charge. In a restaurant with this type of service, I…

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Fight of the Clones: Why Mewtwo for the Super Smash Bros. Series?

Despite recent stock shortages in Japan, the first portable version of the Super Smash Bros. Series left many fans disappointed. Gamers worldwide were outraged at the inclusion of seemingly redundant character “clones” —essentially, characters that borrow movesets and movements from an already existing character—such as Lucina, Dark Pit, and Dr. Mario. Both the 3DS version and the yet-to-be released Wii U edition of the Nintendo brawler touts an extra 12 characters to Brawl‘s own roster. While the likes of Ganondorf, Toon Link, and Luigi prove to be repetitive, yet essential additions to a game highlighting the Nintendo canon, Dark Pit and Dr. Mario should’ve been obvious candidates for alternate costumes.

In short, I’ve been waiting for this game for 10 years now—specifically, since my 10th birthday when I unwrapped my own smoke gray Nintendo 64, a copy of the original SSB, and Pokemon Yellow. Within hours of playing, I dreamt of a copy of the SSB game I could play anywhere and everywhere.

Then Mewtwo was featured in the SSB sequel, Brawl. Needless to say, I was nostalgically ecstatic.

Mewtwo has long reigned as one of Pokemon’s most controversial members—both in and outside of Super Smash Bros. When Melee was released to cater to the original’s success, the Smash Back Room (forums of the most popular SSB online forums, SmashBoards), listed Mewtwo as the worst character in the series. The website cited an awkward combination of large stature, light weight, and “floatiness”(“Smash Wiki”). Despite impressive throws and and superior jumping abilities, the notorious villain would only climb 5 more spots on the Smashboards list.

Mewtwo clones would come and go.  Lucario, and Greninja were crammed into the series in an attempt at cross promotion with the most recent Pokemon game releases at the time. Nintendo would try to mold Lucario into the newest Pokemon rebel through feature length movies and prominent roles in game storyboards that capitalized on the psychic-like possibilities of “aura” and Lucario’s preference for solitude. It seemed Nintendo itself yearned for the return of its own Frankenstein. Even Greninja’s “Water Shuriken” move in SSB3ds would invoke the nebulous imagery of Mewtwo’s preferred projectile in Melee, “Shadow Ball.”


True, I am biased. I grew up with the original 151 Pokemon (Yes, Mewtwo was my favorite) and saw the first feature length Pokemon film, Mewtwo Strikes Back, in theaters. This nostalgia, however, seems justified. Sakurai’s decision to not only include Charizard (a first-generation veteran) as a playable fighter (sans Brawl’s Pokemon Trainer) but also his Mega-Evolution as a Final Smash, showed the creator’s own willingness at reaching back to the generation that started it all. Why couldn’t Nintendo capitalize on Mewtwo’s two Mega-Evolution’s which single-handedly raised Mewtwo back from the 90’s and into the awareness of a new generation of gamers? You can stream hours of Youtube videos of Melee and Brawl hackers who’ve created a convincing mod of Mega Mewtwo Y (Watch Here!). Why couldn’t Mewtwo—arguably, the more complex and influential of the two— receive the Charizard treatment?

10 years after receiving SSB, I am by-far pleased with Masahiro Sakurai’s newest release.  I hardly consider myself the gamer or Pokemon fan I was as a kid; if anything, the release of SSB3DS has reawakened my innate game junkie. Still, the likes of Dark Pit and Dr. Mario are agonizing options for such a landmark release in the SSB. franchise. Meanwhile, other newcomers such as Greninja and the Duck Hunt duo (which seem to have replaced the veteran Ice Climbers—or maybe that was Robin?) are quirky, (even refreshing, perhaps?) nods to Nintendo’s past and present.

While many forum lists have debated which Nintendo elites—some veterans, others new SSB possibilities—would’ve been better suited for inclusion in the newest generation of the SSB franchise, I find Pokemon X & Y’s recent unveiling of Mewtwo’s mega-evolutions, and the character’s reputable past in the series as more than sufficient reasons for Mewtwo’s return—in terms of playability and promotion of other concurrent series.

Got a better fighter in mind? Leave a comment below!

Demi Lovato, Unbroken

“And I just ran out of Band-Aids,” belts Demi Lovato on the swooping ballad, “Fix A Heart”. Naturally, this seems like an understatement for what one of Disney’s most popular teen divas has experienced this past year. With the publicity of Lovato’s struggles with bulimia  and self-mutilation piled on top of the departure from the TV hit, Sonny With A Chance, it would seem Lovato would need more than First Aid kit necessities to help her.
Still, the ballad showcases the best –and worst– of her latest album, Unbroken. The most striking element of Lovato’s latest record is the showcasing of her undeniable vocal talent. At only 18-years old, Sonny With A Chance’s has a level of vocal prowess and stamina that fellow Disney queens, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, will probably never achieve.  On ballads such as synth choir soaked “Lightweight” and the empowerment anthem of a lead single, “Skyscraper”, Lovato conquers demanding vocal sweeps with a precision that gives credence to producer and One-Republic frontman Ryan Tedder’s praising of Lovato as a “Kelly Clarkson level vocalist”. Although such ballads prove to be only a minority of the record’s contents, they are Lovato’s most poignant moments, suggesting that Lovato may eventually be capable of breaking free from her Disney roots.
The majority of Unbroken, however, still has Lovato chanting along to bubblegum pleasures that sound as limited as that of any artist still under contract by Disney. The, Timbaland and Missy Elliot featuring club-stomper “All Night Long” includes a superb example of the cliche lines that flood the album’s high-paced tunes: “Let’s keep the party going all night long/All night long.” Despite featuring A-list guests, tracks such as “You’re My Only Shorty” (featuring Iyez), the peace rallying of the Jason Derulo duet “Together” and the guilty pleasure “Who’s That Boy” are at moments laughable with their boring cameos and lukewarm pop rhythms.
While Lovato certainly has the stadium crowding vocals of any chart topper today, the poor songwriting and faux assertiveness of Unbroken stifle the potential for a promising record by refusing to let Demi take off the Mickey Mouse ears.